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Sunday, January 10, 2010

How do You Define “Ethical Leadership”?

The Positive Leadership definition of 'ethical leadership' has three elements:

(1) Perspective- Working hard to see reality clearly

Many of us view reality as things being just the way they are (at face value), while others understand that our view of reality is based on our beliefs, and that our beliefs are based on our past experiences.

(2) Courage - Doing what is required to get the job done

Failure in leadership is not due to the lack of ideas, but due to the decisions we make after we feel the “tight gut.” It is the ability to be uncomfortable and do the right thing anyway.

(3) Integrity- Doing what is required without violating personal integrity

Integrity is simply obedience to the unenforceable. It is doing the right thing when no one is looking and you wouldn’t get caught doing otherwise.

An individual, a company or even a society’s “brand” is defined to a great extent on ethics. On an individual level, we have to have the courage to be virtuous and do the right thing even when we feel like not doing it. We grow our “virtue muscle” each time we get through the thirty seconds of discomfort – that “tight gut.” We have to work hard not to retreat into cynicism as a protection against feeling bad. One of the best ways to enhance this trait is by working with someone who has higher integrity than us – thereby raising our level of integrity by the association.

On an organisational level, the extremes are from total bureaucracy to total anarchy. In total bureaucracy, lines of integrity are never crossed due to the rules in place, yet individuals are miserable and the company cannot adapt quickly. In total anarchy, the absence of boundaries causes the atmosphere to be chaotic and the company to experience unnecessary loss. The goal in the organisation is to be in the middle of these two extremes and experience “obedience to the unenforceable.” What companies need are employees that will do the right thing in alignment with the direction of the company even when no one is watching.

On a societal level, there are more controls on people’s integrity than ever before. These laws while urging compliance can create cynicism. The more individuals show a commitment to being a value-based society, the more everyone moves toward compassion. The more time we spend in shaping other’s integrity, the more our fabric has been strengthened as a society.